Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”

But in the land of make-believe, Watts and Goddard say: “Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.”

One of the country’s leading experts on the Arctic projects it will be essentially ice-free (in the fall) decades ahead of the projections of the climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report. And that has quite dire implications and consequences for the likely future rate of climate change compared to those models.

The following chart is from Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in a presentation at the March State of the Arctic Meeting (click to enlarge):

*This projection is based on a combined model and data trendline focusing on ice volume. By “ice-free,” Maslowski tells me he means more than an 80% drop from the 1979–2000 summer volume baseline of ~200,00 km^3. Some sea ice above Greenland and Eastern Canada may survive into the 2020s (as the inset in his figure shows), but the Arctic as it has been for apparently a million years will be gone.

Note also that the Polar Science Center asserts “September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.” If that figure is correct, then we may be on one of Maslowski’s faster-declining trend lines. And yes, after apparently hundreds of thousands of years, this relatively rapid decline can, I think, safely be called a “death spiral” (especially if the Polar Science Center’s work discussed below is correct).


Long-time readers may remember that Maslowski’s work on ice volume is one of the main reasons I entered into my big $1000 bet with James Annan, William Connolley, and Brian Schmidt (see “Another big climate bet “” Of Ice and Men”). I just interviewed Maslowski by email and asked him about his work (since it is often misquoted) — and my bet. But first let’s go back to what he said four years ago.

In a 2006 American Meteorological Society seminar I attended, Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Oceanography Department at the Naval Postgraduate School reported that models suggest the Arctic lost one third of its ice volume from 1997 to 2002. He then made an alarming forecast:

“If this trend persists for another 10 years-and it has through 2005-we could be ice free in the summer.”

And that was in 2006, so he was talking about the possibility of being ice free in 2016 — before the big drop in sea ice area in 2007.

The scientific literature and actual observations continue to vindicate Maslowski’s projection (see New study supports finding that “the amount of [multi-year] sea ice in the northern hemisphere was the lowest on record in 2009”³).


Trends in multi-year ice “” ice volume “” are what matter most in terms of the long-term survivability of the Arctic ice in the summer. In that sense, we now know that the Arctic ice did not “recover” in 2008 and 2009 (see “Arctic poised to see record low sea ice volume this year”).

As you can see, even when the news stories were about the Arctic ice supposedly “recovering” (in area) in 2008 and 2009, it was still sharply shedding the thickest ice “” ice older than 2 years.

We appear to have been breaking volume records over the past several months according to the Polar Science Center (click to enlarge):

Note: “Anomalies for each day are calculated relative to the average over the 1979 -2009 period for that day to remove the annual cycle.” The sharp drop at the end is not to a record low absolute level of ice volume, but to apparent record low for the month.

Now that looks like a death spiral, no?

PSC asserts that based on its PIOMAS model, “Total Arctic Ice Volume for March 2010 is 20,300 km^3, the lowest over the 1979–2009 period and 38% below the 1979 maximum. September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.”


I emailed Dr. J. Zhang, who led the PSC team that developed this validated ice volume model, about his confidence in those assertions, and he said:

Our confidence with March 2010 is higher than that with 9/2009. Arctic was much warmer in 2–4/2010 than 2–4/2009 according to NCEP/NCAR surface air temperature used for model forcing, leading to a lower ice volume ( September ice volume is generally tough to estimate with high confidence.

Everywhere you look, records are being set. Here is current data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on observed sea ice extent (click to enlarge):

Actually there remains one place where nothing whatsoever interesting is happening in the Arctic at all.

In a wondrous land of make-believe, called WattsUpWithThat, two people scour the world for out-of-date databases that they can misinterpret and mislead their readers with. I had noted back on May 24 that As Arctic sea ice shrinks faster than 2007, NSIDC director Serreze says, “I think it’s quite possible” we could “break another record this year” — while Watts and Goddard seem in denial: “We are still about six weeks away from anything interesting happening in the Arctic.”

Goddard has been posting every few days trying to reassure WattsUp readers that nothing interesting is happening in the place on the Earth seeing the fastest warming thanks to human emissions.

In a May 31st post “WUWT Arctic Sea Ice News #7” — #7! (and yes he just posted #8) — Goddard opens by asserting:

The death spiral continues, with Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.

Seriously. Not only is nothing interesting in the Arctic happening now, but nothing interesting has been happening for 10 full years!

And then on June 2, Watts published another Goddard work of short fiction, “The undeath spiral,” which opens:

Over the last three years, Arctic Ice has gained significantly in thickness.

It is the Bizarro World of Htrae at Watts, which is ruled by the Bizarro Code: “Us do opposite of all Earthly things!” Goddard ends with a link to CP:

Conclusion : Should we expect a nice recovery this summer due to the thicker ice? You bet ya. Even if all the ice less than 2.5 metres thick melted this summer, we would still see a record high minimum in the DMI charts.

Mark Serreze has a different take for 2010:

“Could we break another record this year? I think it’s quite possible,” said Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

Bookmark this post for reference in September.

Now I have said many times that I do not necessarily agree with every single word of all the people I repost, but by letting Goddard post this fantasy over and over and over again, one must assume that this is what Watts also believes: Nothing is happening in the Arctic.

Back in the real world of cryosphere scientists, Maslowski explains on the final page of his presentation:

  1. The rate of decrease of sea ice thickness and volume appears to be much greater than that of sea ice extent
  2. Oceanic heat has contributed critical preconditioning to sea ice melt in the western Arctic since the mid-1990s
  3. Near ice-free summer Arctic might become a reality much sooner than GCMs predict

And while some in the anti-science crowd have been trying to move the goalposts as to what climate scientists have been predicting — by, ironically enough, by quoting Maslowski’s projections — here is what the climate models or GCMs in fact have been projecting (from Wikipedia):

Projections of sea ice loss suggest that the Arctic ocean will likely be free of summer sea ice sometime between 2060 and 2080.[2]

… Computer models predict that the sea ice area will continue to shrink in the future, although recent work has called into question their ability to accurately predict sea ice changes.[3] Current climate models frequently underestimate the rate of shrinkage.[4] In 2007 the IPCC reported that “the projected reduction [in global sea ice cover] is accelerated in the Arctic, where some models project summer sea ice cover to disappear entirely in the high-emission A2 scenario in the latter part of the 21st century.”³ [5] There is currently no scientific evidence that a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean existed anytime in the last 700,000 years, although there were periods when the Arctic was warmer than it is today.[6][7]

So if Maslowski is anywhere near correct, then this key aspect of human-caused climate change will have happened staggeringly faster than the IPCC and its models had projected — with quite dire implications and consequences for the likely future rat e of climate change compared to the models.

As a 2008 study led by David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) concluded (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss”):

We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland”¦.

In other words, if it continues, the recent trend in sea ice loss may triple overall Arctic warming, causing large emissions in carbon dioxide and methane from the tundra this century (for a review of recent literature on the tundra, see “Science stunner: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting”). Indeed, Lawrence himself said, “Our study suggests that, if sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate.”

As for my bet, based on Maslowski’s email, I think he would have preferred if I had bet on the volume, not the area. Here are the terms I agreed to:

At no time between now and the end of the year 2020 will the minimum total Arctic Sea ice extent be less than 10% of the 1979–2000 average minimum annual Arctic Sea ice extent, as measured by NSIDC data or any other measurement mutually agreed-upon; provided, however, that if two or more volcanic eruptions with the energy level equal to or greater than the 1991 Mount Pinatubo shall occur between now and the end of 2020, then all bets are voided.

I still like my chances very much, but I suppose it is possible that slightly more ice than that 10% could still be clinging to life above Canada and Greenland through 2020. Maybe not, though. As NCAR said of the 2008 study:

The decade during which a rapid sea-ice loss event occurs could see autumn temperatures warm by as much as 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) along the Arctic coasts of Russia, Alaska, and Canada.

In short, it is going to get hot up North before it gets even hotter:

The time to act was a long time ago, but now is far, far better than later, just to give the next generation some chance.

The undeath spiral